Serena Williams faces rising tide of racism over pregnancy

Serena Williams faced racist remarks after her pregnancy announcement. (credit: Edwin Martinez via Wikimedia Commons) Serena Williams faced racist remarks after her pregnancy announcement. (credit: Edwin Martinez via Wikimedia Commons)

Serena Williams is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Moreover, she’s one of the greatest athletes of all time. She has won 39 major titles (23 of them in Grand Slam singles).

She has dominated her sport for nearly two decades, and will continue to do so in the next few years if her victory in this year’s Australian Open is any indication.

Throughout her career, she has battled controversy and criticism on topics from her on-court behavior to her body type.

On Thursday, April 20, Williams announced on Snapchat that she is pregnant with her first child with fiancé Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit. She immediately received an outflow of public support, including from Andy Roddick and Chris Evert.

Not all reactions were as positive. In a news conference for the Fed Cup, tennis legend and Romanian captain Ilie Nastase was heard commenting on Williams’ pregnancy, “Let's see what color it has. Chocolate with milk?"

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) immediately announced an investigation of Nastase, and Williams (who is black; Ohanian is white) responded on her Instagram account, “It disappoints me to know we live in a society which people like Ilie Nastase can make such racist comments towards myself and unborn child, and sexist comments against my peers.”

Nastase, nicknamed “Nasty" during his time as a player, has also been accused of insulting and abusing women on and off the court. Nastase later released a statement apologizing for his comments, saying, “My reaction was spontaneous,” after hearing the news of Williams’ pregnancy for the first time. In another interview, Nastase complained, “Anything I say, I am the bad boy,” blaming the media for creating scandal instead of covering more important topics.

Nastase’s comments were racist and derogatory. The fact that he feels his actions are excusable because they were “spontaneous” is troubling. Today, many people like to ignore racism and bigotry, claiming it to be a thing of the past, something conquered long ago by a different generation. But racism continues to permeate throughout society, consciously and subconsciously, influencing the ways we think and act. His reaction was ignorant, and he did not comprehend the problem of his comments, which ultimately portrays him as a spoiled bigot unable to face the consequences of his words.

In her Instagram post, Williams puts the situation best: “I have said it once and I’ll say it again, this world has come so far but yet we have so much further to go. Yes, we have broken down so many barriers — however there are a plethora more to go.”